Preach, The Seed
This event is also reported by Matthew and Luke in Matthew 8v1-4 and Luke 5v12-16.
Some things from the account that have struck me for this morning:
1. Jesus tells the man not to say anything.
This isn’t the only place Jesus says not to tell people about something.
- 1:34; (this passage) he wouldn’t let the demons speak.
- 5:43; After healing Jairus’ daughter: “And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat”.
- 7:36; after healing a deaf man: “And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it”.
- 8:26; after Peter’s confession: “And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him”.
- 9:30; after he has healed two blind men: And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them, “See that no one knows about it.”
- 17:9; after Peter, James and John had witnessed the transfiguration: And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”
- 12:16; after healing many: Jesus, aware of this (the pharisee’s conspiracy to kill him), withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all and ordered them not to make him known.
- Luke 5:14; Then Jesus ordered him, “Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” (today’s passage)
- Luke 8:56; After healing the daughter of Jairus the synagogue ruler: Her parents were astonished, but he ordered them not to tell anyone what had happened.
- to the disciples after Peter’s confession: Luke 9:21 Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone.
Why? Why does Jesus tell people NOT to say anything? We seem to be bombarded with verses like “if you deny me before men, I will deny you before my father in heaven”, or “go into all the world and proclaim the good news to all creation”
Setting aside the fact that denying Jesus is not quite the same as NOT telling people, I do believe that we are called to give witness to people around us about the good news that we carry. However we cannot get around the fact that here and in other places – many of which I’ve mentioned, Jesus SPECIFICALLY tells people NOT to say anything. Why? Well, I think there are a number of reasons. The latter sentences in today’s passage gives us the first hint. and it’s this:
The leper “went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.”
Jesus wasn’t in it for the fame
In fact, more than that, Jesus’ whole mission was to bring glory to the father and do the father’s will.
John talks about this in two places.
In John 4:34 Jesus describes his food as “to do the will of Him who sent me and to do His work”
In John 6:38, Jesus says to the crowds who follow him that he “came down from heaven not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me”
In the teaching that we know as the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5 6 and 7, Jesus tells the people (and, by extension/implication, us) to be careful not to do their deeds of righteousness before men to be seen by men. Nowadays, the thing that seems to drive people above everything else is the pursuit of fame.
TV shows such as ‘I’m a Celebrity’, ‘dancing on ice’, ‘strictly come dancing’ ‘big brother’ and others are all seen (at least in some measure) as mechanisms for celebrities to regain some fame which might have waned a bit. Everyone, it seems, wants to get famous and to stay famous when they get there. Many people want their achievements recognised and celebrated by all. What is the point of award ceremonies, prize givings and so on? Why do people train and train and seek to beat everyone else, stand on podium, get given a medal and hear the cheering of the crowds?
Even in the church, I wonder what motivates many churches and church leaders to do what they do. Is their motivation sometimes more to do with reputation amongst other churches around or in their denomination than how they are best serving God? Do people sometimes ‘switch’ churches because the one they are moving to is more well-known than the one they are leaving? My experience is that in far too many cases, the answer to this question is ‘yes, they are’ (that’s not to sat that there aren’t legitimate reasons for moving form one church to another). I often have to check my own spirit and remind myself that I am serving one master (God). It is my reputation with Him and not with the people around me that is important.
The root of the fall of Satan was what? It was that He wanted for himself the praise which rightly should have been given to God. This is the essence of the third temptation “I will give you all these kingdoms if you will worship me”.
But Jesus wasn’t in it for the glory and praise. He frequently withdrew from people, He always sought to bring glory to God and not take it for himself. This is true humility and we would do well to follow his example.
Jesus was on God’s timescale
Note how many times we read in the Bible about timing being important. Jesus would say “my time has not yet come”. For example in John 7:8, he says, “You go to the festival. I am not going up to this festival, because my time has not yet fully come.” (see also My time has not yet come (John 2:4; 7:6, 30; 8:20). In Matthew 26:18 he tells the disciples, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.’” (see also Matt. 26:45).
Paul describes the Gospel as “A plan for the fullness of time”. Ephesians 1:7-10 says that, “In him (that’s Jesus) we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”
Ephesians 5:16 (in the NKJV/KJV) calls us to “redeem the time because the days are evil” The NIV and other translations do not use a literal translation, but convey the meaning by saying “making the most of every opportunity” and this verse links it with wisdom saying it is a characteristic of living “not as unwise, but as wise”. Paul also tells the Galatians that “when the time had fully come, God sent his Son” (Galatians 4:4), and in Romans he writes that “at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6)
How we see God’s view of time is quite important for two reasons.
Firstly, Jesus says to the disciples that Acts 1:7 “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority”. This is in response to the question “is it NOW, Lord?”. He also promises the Holy Spirit as part of his response to this question.
Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2 “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night”.
I believe that one thing we cannot get hung up on is trying to predict and second-guess where we sit in history. We might be right at the end, we might not. The point is this: We must be ready if he comes.
The parable of the 10 bridesmaids (Matthew 25:1-13) shows the foolishness of not being ready. Jesus’ references the “sign of Jonah” in Matthew 16. He says to the Pharisees and Sadducees that they can interpret the weather by looking at the sky, but they are unable to interpret what He describes as ‘the signs of the times’.
We must understand the signs of our times, read the culture around us, but we can’t dive down a rabbit hole which will distract us from faithfully following our lord.
Secondly, and possibly closer to home is this: Perhaps, just perhaps, you’ve been praying for something to happen, or something to stop. You feel like you’re in some kind of liminal place, a place between where you once were and one where you want to be. Why isn’t it happening, Lord? Why am I still here and not there?
Consider this: is it not at least possible that God has heard your prayer, that His answer is yes. But that it is simply not the right time for you to step into the ‘yes’ of God. God is not saying ‘no’, He is simply saying ‘not yet—wait’.
After all what does Isaiah say?
“they that wait on the Lord will rise up like eagles, they will run and not grow weary, they shall walk and not faint”
That’s great help I know, when everything seems to be so far away that you almost despair of ever getting there, but waiting on God patiently seems to me to be a significant characteristic of the people of God. Not for nothing is patience one of the fruits of the spirit!
2. “Offer the sacrifices required by Moses”
We are very familiar with the concept that Jesus is, himself the ultimate sacrifice required by Moses. Yet He commands that the law be satisfied. What significance does ‘show yourself to the priest’ mean for the cleansed leper, and what can we take home from it today?
Acceptance v Rejection
Firstly, I would suggest that the process this leper had gone through was one of exclusion from the community around him. Lepers were unclean and were excluded from the general population. They have been throughout the centuries, and in large part they still are in some cultures.
Showing yourself to the priests was the first step in the process of being reinstated into the community. It was a public recognition that you were no longer on the outside, but that you could now be welcomed back into the community.
We no longer live in first century Judea, but there are things which our society deems unpalatable and excludes people because of them. This is becoming less so as we rush headlong into godlessness as a nation, but coming to Christ can very often bring us forgiveness of sins AND a change in our life choices which perviously separated us from others.
Paul writes : “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labour, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (Ephesians 4:28).
There are numerous testimonies about people who have been estranged from families and communities who, having come to Christ, are reunited with them.
There is a flip-side, though.
In many cultures, becoming a Christian has real implications. Moslem cultures view followers of Jesus as deserving of death. This is bad enough if they are Christian because of the faith surviving through their ancestry, but it is especially true if such people have converted from Islam. I know that Islamic families will have mock funerals for relatives who convert (that is if they haven’t literally killed them).
Increasingly, becoming a Christian here in the UK will become a reason for people to exclude you. I have lost friends because I have taken a biblical stance about certain ‘hot’ issues that are around today (I don’t need to spell out what they are). Cancel Culture towards Christians is very real even here, in the UK in the 21st century.
But the one place you won’t be excluded from because of your faith in Jesus is heaven!
An Expert Witness
The leper knew Jesus could heal him. this is revealed in his confession “if you are willing, you can make me clean”.
The priest could not do that. What he could do though, is see that the man was clean AND confirm it formally in the community. The leper would not just be clean because he said so. He would have the added “I am clean because I’ve been declared clean by the authorities”. that is significant. The priest was, in effect, an expert witness.
If the priest declared the man clean, he was clean. This meant that the priest was giving expert witness to the authenticity of the miracle and, by implication, he was testifying to the power and the ability of Jesus to heal.
Nowadays, I understand that medical science can heal leprosy (with multi-drug therapies including antibiotics), but in the 1st century that ability was millennia away. What medical science cannot do though is to reverse the physical damage that comes as a result of it. Jesus did both. Part of the reason we know that is that the priest didn’t have blood tests and scanning machines like we do today to say it was gone. He had only his eyes: “show yourself to the priest”.
The importance of an expert witness cannot be understated. Especially if there is some form of healing which has taken place. Cynicism about these things abound: there are TV shows and exposés of ‘faith healers’ which tar every miraculous event with the same brush. Which is “this is some form of deception which we simply have to find and explain”. An expert witness increases the credibility of the healing. Apart from being an expert, often such people are also impartial.
I believe the medical verification of healings is as important today as the priest’s verification was in first century Judea.
The ‘sacrifice required’ that Jesus tells the healed man to offer is described in Leviticus 14. The writer to the Hebrews makes it clear that the sacrificial system supremely is fulfilled through the cross. He says things like “if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:13,14).
read Leviticus 14:2-7 with those words of Hebrews ringing in our ears.
“These are the regulations for any diseased person at the time of their ceremonial cleansing, when they are brought to the priest: The priest is to go outside the camp and examine them. If they have been healed of their defiling skin disease, the priest shall order that two live clean birds and some cedar wood, scarlet yarn and hyssop be brought for the person to be cleansed. Then the priest shall order that one of the birds be killed over fresh water in a clay pot. He is then to take the live bird and dip it, together with the cedar wood, the scarlet yarn and the hyssop, into the blood of the bird that was killed over the fresh water. Seven times he shall sprinkle the one to be cleansed of the defiling disease, and then pronounce them clean. After that, he is to release the live bird in the open fields”.
This could not point to Jesus more clearly if it tried to! In the act of sacrificing the bird and its blood being used in the freeing of the other, we get a very clear picture of how Jesus cleanses us. One bird dies (a guilt bearing sacrifice), and one lives (a living sacrifice). The blood of the first bird is mixed with water and the living sacrifice is to be dipped in that blood/water combination representing a cleansing (with blood) and then it is set free.
The blood of the sacrificed bird is also sprinkled on the leper as part of the declaration of his cleansing. He is like the live bird, he is declared to be clean and he is set free like the bird is, and it is the blood of the sacrificed bird makes that possible.
Christ ultimately cleanses us with his own blood. He dies, and his blood literally washes us clean, and it is through that blood that we go free.
Follow the Law?
As far as we are able, we should try to live in accordance with the law. Not just the civil laws of our land, but dare I suggest, also the laws that we have in church (if I can call them ‘laws’).
CAVEAT: I am NOT suggesting for one minute that we can gain salvation by keeping certain laws, or by performing certain religious ceremonies. At the risk of being controversial I would include just saying a form of words we know as the ‘sinner’s prayer’ or going through a physical ceremony that we call baptism in that. I don’t think you would be surprised by this, but it does bear saying out loud. It is perfectly possible to say the words of the sinners prayer and not mean them, it is also possible simply to see betting baptised as nothing more than a mechanism to church membership and for it to have no real spiritual significance for you (which is partly why I reject the view that water baptism is essential for salvation). It is simply NOT true that undertaking some kind of ceremony or praying a specific prayer has some kind of magical power and ‘hey presto!’ you’re suddenly a Christian. Foundationally, being a Christian is about responding in our spirits, in our inner man to the gospel and becoming followers of Jesus. It is about being born again (as Jesus explains to Nicodemus in John 3:1-8) and becoming a new creation (as Paul writes to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 5:17).
So, we are NOT into legalism. I don’t subscribe to the view that we must follow this or that custom to be Christians. Paul is quite clear about that. He writes to the Galatians who are falling into the trap of believing that circumcision (following the law) is a necessary step for a believer to take. He is quite blunt about it and calls this “another gospel which is really no gospel at all” (Galatians 1:7). He says that people are “not justified by the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:16). So this is not about following a law or custom in order to gain some form of spiritual advantage.
We are called as Christians to live at peace with all people. Paul writes in Romans 12:18 “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all”. He calls us to live peacefully in the society in which we live and to be subject to the authorities above us. But we also have another set of ‘laws’ to which we are accountable: the laws of God.
Before we became Christians, the culture we lived in dictated the only standards we lived by (through its laws and its customs). But when we became Christians, our citizenship was transferred. Spiritually we were ‘born again’ and we became a new nation, a redeemed people, and our primary allegiance is now to God. However, we still live physically amongst people who are not citizens of heaven. In many cases, they are enemies of God. But we must still live amongst them.
The first ‘rule’ we must follow (which is probably offensive to modern sensibilities) is this one: Our allegiance to God trumps any worldly allegiances we might also feel. It is not for no reason that Paul writes in Galatians 3:28-29 that, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise”. This means, your allegiance and concern for your fellow Christian must and should take priority over any other characteristic you share with anyone else (you are a Christian BEFORE you are a man or a woman, you are a Christian BEFORE your nationality, BEFORE your ethnicity, BEFORE your social, economic or political position). I find it highly irritating when I hear people describe themselves as a this or a that Christian (black Christian, white Christian, British Christian, African Christian and so on). If you add any ‘identifier’ to your Christianity, you are completely missing the point of what becoming a Christian is all about.
So, applying this into our daily lives,
- If our culture or our laws forbid any action which God commands, or
- If it commands on which God forbids,
Then we have an obligation to give priority to God’s law not man’s.
Secondly, we must be able to understand and differentiate between the various ‘laws’ we find in the Bible. Some people, if they want to be antagonistic will find some obscure levitical ‘law’ which we don’t follow to suggest we pick and choose which we follow and which we don’t. For example: why DO biblical Christians think it’s ok to wear garments of blended threads, or eat shrimp, but say that a homosexual lifestyle is sinful? Note that generally these are not meant to be questions, they are meant as accusations.
To partly answer this accusation. In the Old Testament we see three types of law that the people of God had to follow:
- Ceremonial/Sacrificial laws
- Civil Laws
- Moral Laws
The Ceremonial/Sacrificial laws are those which the people of God followed to make themselves clean before a holy God. They include things like the ’shrimp law’ and the others mentioned above, which are to remind the people of God that they are different to the people around them, and to ensure they kept themselves ceremonially clean. Their main purpose was to provide a way they could atone for their sins, So they included all the sacrificial requirements which were designed to do just that. When we say that Jesus came to fulfil the law, it is primarily this law which he fulfils.
The Civil laws were intended to create and maintain a societal structure in which the people of God could live peacefully. They established a society which was distinctive from the nations around them. Sometimes you will find in the pentateuch (the books of the law), God saying ‘you must not be like the other nations’. For example, Leviticus 18:2-5 says:“Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the LORD your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the LORD your God. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the LORD”. You can see practically how different they were when you read these laws alongside other ancient contemporary law codes.
Then there were Moral laws they had to follow. These are those which have universal application. They are such things as ‘don’t murder’ or ‘don’t commit adultery’. These are, by and large, commended and reinforced in the New Testament. Jesus sometimes raises them to a higher level. For example, being angry is as wrong as committing murder : “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.
So, our basic rule is : the sacrificial/ceremonial laws are fulfilled in Christ. The civil laws applied to Israel. They teach us something of God and how He expects His people to live, but they are not laws which we must follow. The moral law, however, is still relevant. So when we look at the laws in the Bible we must ask the question, what category does the ‘law’ fit into—before we determine whether it is binding on us.
Coming to today, there are lots of laws and customs in our society which are neither commanded, nor forbidden in the Bible. The most obvious example being road rules and the highway code. So, we may use other criteria as to whether or not we follow or obey them. For the most part, it probably will mean we do. The only laws and customs we should not hesitate to disobey are those which go against God’s laws.
In circumstances where the law itself is not an issue, as far as is possible, we would do well to try to comply with societal protocols. We are not ‘OF’ the world, but that doesn’t mean we should go out of our way to alienate people.
This is a real echo of Paul who writes in 1 Corinthians 9:20-22: “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some”.
Philippians says this of Jesus: that although he was in his very nature, God. He became a man like us. He identified with us. The NIV says it like this: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Philippians 2:6).
Hebrews 4:15 says he suffered the same troubles and temptations we do: “for we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are —yet he did not sin”.
3. And finally:
It seems from reading the text that the healed leper did not do what Jesus told him to do. Instead he went out and told everyone what Jesus had done. We read that
“he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter”.
The man’s actions directly impacted Jesus ministry, and the implication from the account is that this was not a good thing.
Have you or I ever sensed the leading of God in some way, to do something, or to not do something, and in our excitement we’ve ignored that voice and gone and done it our own way?
Perhaps this is the reason the God couldn’t work in your life the way you thought he was going to.
Remember, sometimes we try to give God a helping hand (Abraham/Hagar), or even to think that it is us who are doing that which God is doing in our lives (Judges 7:2 tells us that the reason that Gideon’s army was whittled down to just 300 was exactly that).
Even if it feels odd, the best and safest course of action is to do what God is calling us to do. Nothing more lest we claim that we have done it by our own efforts, and nothing less. We must do our part and trust God to do His.
Doing too much or too little might have the unintended consequence of blocking the blessing of God.